The Danbury Prison Fire:

What Happened? What Has Been Done To Prevent Recurrence?

GGD-78-82: Published: Aug 4, 1978. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1982.

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On July 7, 1977, a fire occurred at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, killing five inmates and causing about 70 people to be hospitalized as a result of injuries. The Bureau of Prisons convened a Board of Inquiry composed of Bureau personnel, none of whom were experts in fire safety investigations. Subsequently, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People questioned the completeness and accuracy of the Board of Inquiry's report. In response to a congressional inquiry, GAO reconstructed the key events of the fire.

There was no evidence that the Board of Inquiry was not objective in its investigation of the fire. The Board's report and supporting documents were unclear, but they were basically accurate. The GAO investigation was hindered by several factors: physical evidence was no longer available; inmates had been transferred or released; there was conflicting testimony; and confusion was caused by the events of the fire. However, GAO concluded that the building material used in remodeling the area which caught fire was in accordance with safety standards although the institution did not fully comply with fire safety training and preparedness guidelines. Weaknesses included: inadequate and infrequent fire safety inspections, an inadequate fire plan, absence of reliable exits, and inadequate lighting. A number of deficiencies have been corrected by Danbury, including improved inspections, replacement of nonstandard building materials, an improved fire plan, better training for inmates with regard to fires and emergencies, and increased numbers of correctional officers on the morning watch.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should require the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to: provide correctional staff with increased fire safety training; include non-Bureau personnel, preferably with expertise in fire investigations, on future Boards of Inquiry; and keep abreast of significant changes in fire safety standards so that alterations in existing institutions can be considered.

    Agency Affected:


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